Monday, January 30, 2006

Bray and Spengler

Here is an interesting, but distressing, analysis of the war status in Iraq by Chris Bray, a historian and a soldier currently stationed in Kuwait. He points out the rich history of military happytalk. In his example, the Confederacy asserted in February of 1865, mere weeks before the surrender at Appomattox, that things were going swimmingly and people just had to buck up and be positive. Certainly, it's true, that the light was always shining at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam. Bray claims that the US government has been doing it once again with regard to the situation in Iraq. I admit that the lamentable history does induce chronic skepticism. The de-emphasis of body counts in Iraq was intended to ameliorate the problem, but opponents can always find a number somewhere. Bray cites a number of sources, including the Brookings Institute, to prove that lots of folks thought we were making progress, but, he suggests, we're not.

His conclusion:

So we have an ongoing military effort in Iraq that sweeps the same villages four and five times, declaring them free of insurgents and then returning later to clear the village of insurgents; we have estimates that show more insurgents being killed than the estimates of the number of insurgents that ever existed; we have generals declaring that the insurgents can no longer sustain operations, followed shortly by large-scale, coordinated insurgent operations that are now approaching the three-year mark, suggesting a substantial ability to sustain operations; we have insurgent attacks that climbed from 26,496 in 2004 to 34,135 in 2005. And we have a political and military establishment that has continuously claimed, since 2003, that the insurgency is desperate, on its last legs, and lashing out before it blinks out of existence.

The fact is, we are really operating on gut feel here. There are no goalposts. There are no good standards to measure our progress. Bray is right about that. Some folks have said it would be easy. Some folks have said we are making progress. I don't think the Commander-in-Chief was one of those. He has never soft-pedaled this operation. He has characterized the War on Terror as difficult and potentially lengthy. He has called for sacrifice and support. Rumsfeld has been quoted as saying that we don't even know how to win this war yet. Terrorists, he suggests, may spring up faster than we can eliminate them.

You and I cannot know everything the President knows. We have to trust him; he knows all the problems and all the costs, and he was elected to deal with the situation. And that's the real problem here. Many like Chris Bray, perhaps not Bray himself, are unwilling to accept that the President was legitimately elected, or that he knows anything worth knowing, or that we should concede one inch of political turf before the next election corrects an obvious mistake. Another thing that Chris Bray doesn’t appear to accept is that this war is serious. I believe we need to win it, and we are going to win it, in spite of an unspeakably merciless and fanatic enemy and in spite of our own ineptitude and bouts of self-doubt.

Now, I don’t want this to be just a pep talk, so I’m going to try to prove my point. First, military happytalk was also a feature of previous wars that we have won. Government press releases by the Union and Confederacy were probably indistinguishable in tone six months before the end. If we could predict the outcome from the headlines of the New York Times, we could save ourselves a lot of trouble.

Second, the President and his advisors are looking at long term problems as well as political polls. They have the benefit of the best strategic insight, shorn of party politics and political correctness. I really don't think Bush is a dim-witted individual, but even if you do, you must admit that he makes good political decisions, and he knows how to fight. Wouldn't the same characteristics serve him well in the GWOT?

Just to give you some insight into the kinds of things you and I might not know, let me quote from a certain Otto Spenglerwho writes for the Asia Times.

... Iran's oil exports will shrink to zero in 20 years, just at the demographic inflection point when the costs of maintaining an aged population will crush its state finances, as I reported in Demographics and Iran's imperial design (September 13, 2005). Just outside Iran's present frontiers lie the oil resources of Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and not far away are the oil concentrations of eastern Saudi Arabia. Its neighbors are quite as alarmed as Washington about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and privately quite happy for Washington to wipe out this capability. ...

Please understand. I love variety in people's POV. I don't think it's traitorous to doubt the President. I don't even think it's defeatest or contemptible in any way to challenge the Administration's actions. I do think it makes things complicated. All I would ask is that people respect the Office of the President and try to keep an open mind.

1/30/2006 11:09 PM

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At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 8:33:00 PM, Blogger Frank Warner said...

As President Bush said in front of the "Mission Accomplished" sign on May 1, 2003:

"We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous....

"The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq."

The mission of removing the dictator was fairly swift. The mission of democratization is taking years.

At Wednesday, February 01, 2006 12:30:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Yes! It's so disingenuous to imply that he was taking credit for a completed task. I don't think he really understood how difficult it would be, but he knew it would be difficult. More importantly, he knew it was necessary, and I hope he doesn't weaken on that.


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